Reports: No Religious Exemptions in Obama's Exec. Orders
President Obama will sign two executive orders involving employment nondiscrimination protections for LGBT employees Monday, the Washington Blade reports.
Obama plans to amend two existing executive orders to add LGBT protections rather than writing new orders, prompting numerous LGBT outlets and organizations to conclude that the president will not include far-reaching religious exemptions in his efforts to outlaw anti-LGBT bias in the workplaces of companies that do business with the federal government.
The Blade reports that Obama's Monday actions will amend Executive Order 11246, adding sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of characterics on which federal contractors may not discriminate. As it stands, E.O. 11246 prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, and national origin.
Obama's second action Monday, first alluded to in the president's remarks at the White House Pride celebration, will amend Executive Order 11478 to outlaw discrimination based on gender identity in the "federal civilian workplace," according to the Blade. President Clinton first amended that executive order to add sexual orientation, but Obama's amendment will add gender identity to the list of protected traits.
The announcement — made during the White House's weekly press call with a group of LGBT journalists by Obama administration officials — comes as a welcome relief to LGBT advocates who have been concerned that the president would give in to demands from right-wing religious groups and activists seeking a broad religious exemption, sometimes called a "license to discriminate."
"We're so proud today of the decision made by the Obama administration to resist the calls by a small number of right-wing conservatives to insert religious exemptions into civil rights protections," said Heather Cronk, executive director of grassroots LGBT group GetEqual, in a statement Friday. "While we will continue to press for full equality under the law for LGBTQ Americans, we’re thrilled with the announcement today and look forward to President Obama signing his name to an executive order on Monday that we can all be proud of."
Religious groups, universities, and lawmakers have been fiercely lobbying the president in recent weeks, requesting that any executive order he signs include the option for religiously affiliated companies and individuals to opt out of the order making it against federal law to fire, refuse to hire, or decline to promote someone because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
U.S. senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, a staunch conservative Republican who nonetheless voted for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act last year, asked the president last month to include religious exemptions similar in scope to those included in the version of ENDA passed by the Senate last November. The bill is now stalled as it awaits action by the House of Representatives.
But in the wake of the Supreme Court's decision in Hobby Lobby, seven major LGBT groups formally dropped their support for ENDA, saying the bill's religious exemptions were overly broad and would create an untenable license to discriminate. Notably, several major LGBT organizations including the Human Rights Campaign, National Center for Transgender Equality, and Freedom to Work, are still standing by the legislation in its current form.
For its part, HRC lauded today's announcement, while still calling on the House of Representatives to pass ENDA.
"With the strokes of a pen, the president will have a very real and immediate impact on the lives of millions of LGBT people across the country," said HRC president Chad Griffin in a statement. "Each and every American worker should be judged based on the work they do, and never because of a fundamental aspect of who they are — like their sexual orientation or gender identity. These actions from the President have the potential to be a keystone in the arch of his administration’s progress, and they send a powerful message to future administrations and to Congress that anti-LGBT discrimination must not be tolerated."
Wisconsin senator Tammy Baldwin, the first openly gay person to be elected to the upper chamber of U.S. Congress, applauded today's news, but stressed that the executive order does not signal the end of the battle for LGBT equality in America.
"Every American deserves the freedom to work free from discrimination and last year the Senate found common ground, passing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act with strong bipartisan support," said Baldwin in a statement. "I will continue to call on the House to put progress ahead of politics and give the Senate-passed ENDA an up or down vote because this legislation provides workplace protections that millions more Americans need and deserve today."